The Bears Have A Long Way To Go

--USA Today Sports Images

–USA Today Sports Images

As I was watching the NFC Championship on Sunday night there was a feeling I just couldn’t shake. It was a battle between two very good teams, possibly the two best teams in the NFL right now, and it was fantastic to watch, but as much as I enjoyed it, my mind was back here in Chicago for a lot of it.

I kept thinking over and over again was that the Bears have a long way to go. A long, long way.

Yeah, you can argue that the Bears were basically a Chris Conte blown coverage away from making the playoffs, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They would have had a date with San Francisco in that first round, and you’ve seen San Francisco play three games in the postseason. You know as well as I do the Bears aren’t beating that team.

To be honest, I’m not sure there are any teams in the playoffs this year that the Bears are beating, which is to be expected of a team that finished the season 8-8, even if that 8-8 was nearly enough to get them to the postseason.

Obviously, most of the improvement the Bears need to make is on the defensive side of the ball, and special teams as well. The offense is perfectly suitable. In fact, the offense just might be pretty damned good.

But the defense, man. The defense. It needs a lot of work.

The good news is the Bears front office is well aware of this fact. It’s nice heading into an offseason without any glaring holes on the offensive line or in need of a receiver. It’s not as nice heading into the offseason knowing there isn’t an area of the defense that doesn’t need to be improved. Odds are that every single draft pick the Bears use in May will be on a defensive player, especially now that Jay Cutler has been signed to a long-term deal.

I’ll get more into the draft and what I’d like to see the Bears do as we get closer to it, but I will say that there is more depth in this draft than I remember seeing in a long time. The biggest reason for this is the sheer amount of underclassmen who have declared early.

I know the Bears safeties are absolutely terrible. I know they messed up early and often this season. But if given the choice between a safety or a defensive lineman with that first round pick, I’m going with the defensive lineman every single time. And you should too.

Even Richard Sherman would agree with this logic.

“When I say I’m the best cornerback in football, it’s with a caveat: There isn’t a great defensive backfield in the NFL that doesn’t have a great front seven,” wrote Sherman in his column on Monday, a day after giving the greatest postgame interview in history. “Everything begins with pressure up front, and that’s what we get from our pass rushers every Sunday.”

One of those pass-rushers Sherman wrote about could be in Chicago next season, as Michael Bennett — he of the 8.5 sacks this season — will be a free agent, and the Bears already have his brother on the roster, Martellus Bennett. Still, even if the Bears sign Bennett, I want to see them add someone like Stephon Tuitt, Timmy Jernigan, Kony Ealy, Ra’Shede Hageman  or Trent Murphy with that first pick.

A good pass-rush improves your entire defense, as it allows linebackers to flow to the ball and cover, and it forces your secondary to cover for a much shorter length of time. When you get to the quarterback, everybody wins, and the Bears just didn’t get to the quarterback this season. They were tied with Jacksonville for least amount of sacks in the league at 31.

A good defensive line also makes stopping the run much easier. Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene looked like the rookies they were all too often this season, but it’s hard to look good when the offensive line is getting to the second level and taking you out of the play as often as they did against the Bears this season.

The Bears have a very long way to go. Adding a defensive lineman or two won’t be enough. Neither will adding a couple of players in the secondary. But it’d be a start.

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